News / Asia

Rohingya Using Larger Boats to Flee Burma, Bangladesh

FILE - Ethnic Rohingya refugees from Burma wave as they are transported by a wooden boat to a temporary shelter in Krueng Raya in Aceh Besar.
FILE - Ethnic Rohingya refugees from Burma wave as they are transported by a wooden boat to a temporary shelter in Krueng Raya in Aceh Besar.
Activists in Southeast Asia say thousands of people are fleeing Bangladesh and Burma by sea, resuming a seasonal migration that has seen many head south in recent years. Nearly all are attempting to illegally enter Malaysia via Thailand.

Monitors along the Burma-Bangladesh border estimate that 17,000 people have already left the area since August, mostly on big boats.

The information comes from the non-governmental organization, the Arakan Project.

Chris Lewa is the director of the research-based humanitarian group concerned with the plight of the stateless Rohingya, a minority Muslim ethnic group in the region.

“Just in the last week or so we have nearly 4,000 people who are on the move. We are particularly concerned that this season, I would say from now on during the dry season, there is going to be a massive movement of boat people,” he said.

U.N. officials in the region say they deem the reports “credible” but have no specific numbers of their own.

Economic migrants from Bangladesh and Burma have long risked dangerous sea voyages in search of better jobs in Malaysia and elsewhere in Asia. But sectarian violence between Buddhists and Muslims in Burma in the past year has led to rising numbers of ethnic Rohingya fleeing the country.
U.N. organizations have noted the shift this year to larger vessels from the small and dangerous older fishing vessels previously used by the Rohingya in the Bay of Bengal.

The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), in a report released last Friday, noted that with the use of the bigger ships, “the price has been lowered and methods of payment have eased, facilitating the greater numbers of departures.”

Lewa tells VOA the more sophisticated exodus appears to be well organized. “This cannot exist, this kind of thing, without close collaboration with authorities in the country, whether it is Thailand or in Bangladesh. But specifically in Thailand all this movement of people, I think, cannot happen with some connivance,” he stated.

The Thai online news site Phuketwan said would-be refugees and villagers on the country’s western Andaman coast have fingered renegade Thai officers who are participating in people smuggling.

The Reuters news agency, in July, reported that interviews with people smugglers and survivors of boat voyages, revealed some Thai naval security forces were working “systematically with smugglers to profit from the surge in fleeing Rohingya.”

Lewa says her contacts along the border note that people in Burma are boarding ferry boats in daylight and without paying authorities, suggesting at least an informal “open door policy” by the country for those Muslims desiring to leave.

The passengers are transferred among ships in international waters, according to witnesses who spoke with Lewa. They are reportedly held in makeshift camps built by smugglers in southern Thailand until they can pay $2,000 per person to be moved across the border into Malaysia.

“There is a lot of concern that if they can't pay they may be sold or trafficked. It is difficult, of course, to find evidence of this but we do believe that there are people being sold to fishing trawlers or plantations, either in the south of Thailand or Malaysia,” stated Lewa.

The U.N. Refugee Agency said it has noted that since inter-communal violence last June in Rakhine state, more women and children are fleeing. Previously it was primarily men who risked their lives by taking perilous journeys on smaller boats.

Several small overcrowded boats carrying about as many as 200 Rohingya capsized and sank in rough seas in May of this year off the coast of western Burma. Fewer than one third of those on board made it ashore.

Marine police in Satun province, in far southern Thailand, confirm that 219 Rohingya swam to a beach after their vessel ran aground on a sandbank on September 11. The men were given drinking water and fuel, their boat was pushed back out to sea and they were sent on their way towards Malaysia, marine police Lt. Gen. Bungerd Manawat told VOA.

The maritime migration of the Rohingya is considered one of the biggest movements of boat people since the end of the Vietnam War in the mid-1970's.

Steve Herman

A veteran journalist, Steve Herman is VOA's Southeast Asia Bureau Chief and Correspondent, based in Bangkok.

You May Like

Guatemala Mudslide Death Toll Rises to 86

Death toll is expected to continue to rise as emergency crews dig through tons of earth for an estimated 350 people still missing More

Debris Found in Search for Missing Ship

Objects located Sunday have not yet been confirmed to be from the 240 meter container ship, El Faro, which disappeared in the eye of Hurricane Joaquin, according to US Coast Guard More

Survivor: Gunman Spared 'Lucky One' to Give Police Message

Law enforcement official says a manifesto of several pages was recovered; contents not revealed More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europei
Luis Ramirez
October 02, 2015 4:45 PM
European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europe

European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video First Self-Driving Truck Debuts on European Highways

The first automated semi-trailer truck started its maiden voyage Friday, Oct. 2, on a European highway. The Daimler truck called 'Actros' is the first potentially mass-produced truck whose driver will be required only to monitor the situation, similar to the role of an airline captain while the plane is in autopilot mode. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Migrant Influx Costs Europe, But Economy Could Benefit

The influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants is testing Europe’s ability to respond – especially in the poorer Balkan states. But some analysts argue that Europe will benefit by welcoming the huge numbers of young people – many of them well educated and willing to work. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

Video New Fabric Helps Fight Dust-Related Allergies

Many people around the world suffer from dust-related allergies, caused mainly by tiny mites that live in bed linen. Polish scientists report they have successfully tested a fabric that is impenetrable to the microscopic creatures. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Video Burkina Faso's Economy Deeply Affected by Political Turmoil

Political turmoil in Burkina Faso over the past year has taken a toll on the economy. The transitional government is reporting nearly $70 million in losses in the ten days that followed a short-lived coup by members of the presidential guard earlier this month. The crisis shut businesses and workers went on strike. With elections on the horizon, Emilie Iob reports on what a return to political stability can do for the country's economic recovery.

Video Fleeing Violence, Some Syrians Find Refuge in Irbil

As Syrians continue to flee their country’s unrest to seek new lives in safer places, VOA Persian Service reporter Shepol Abbassi visited Irbil, where a number Syrians have taken refuge. During the religious holidy of Eid al-Adha, the city largely shut down, as temperatures soared. Amy Katz narrates his report.

Video Nigeria’s Wecyclers Work for Reusable Future in Lagos

The streets and lagoons of Africa's largest city - Lagos, Nigeria - are often clogged with trash, almost none of which gets recycled. One company is trying to change that. Chris Stein reports for VOA from Lagos.

Video Sketch Artist Helps Catch Criminals, Gives a Face to Deceased

Police often face the problem of trying to find a crime suspect based on general descriptions that could fit hundreds of people in the vicinity of the crime. In these cases, an artist can use information from witnesses to sketch a likeness that police can show the public via newspapers and television. But, as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, such sketches can also help bring back faces of the dead.

Video Thailand Set to Build China-like Internet Firewall

Thai authorities are planning to tighten control over the Internet, creating a single international access point so they can better monitor content. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok on what is being called Thailand’s own "Great Firewall."

Video Croatian Town’s War History Evokes Empathy for Migrants

As thousands of Afghanistan, Iraqi and Syrian migrants pass through Croatia, locals are reminded of their own experiences with war and refugees in the 1990s. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from the town of Vukovar, where wartime scars still are visible today.

Video Long Drought Affecting California’s Sequoias

California is suffering under a historic four-year drought and scientists say even the state's famed sequoia trees are feeling the pain. The National Park Service has started detailed research to see how it can help the oldest living things on earth survive. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs